Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf

by Alexander Afanasyev

In a certain far-away Tzardom not in this Empire, there lived a Tzar named Wyslaff, who had three sons: the first Tzarevich Dimitry, the second Tzarevich Wassily, and the third Tzarevich Ivan.

The Tzar had a walled garden, so rich and beautiful that in no kingdom of the world was there a more splendid one. Many rare trees grew in it whose fruits were precious jewels, and the rarest of all was an apple-tree whose apples were of pure gold, and this the Tzar loved best of all.

One day he saw that one of the eolden apples was missing. He placed guards at all gates of the garden; but in spite of this, each morning on counting, he found one more apple gone. At length he set men on the wall to watch day and night, and these reported to him that every night there came flying into the garden a bird that shone like the moon, whose feathers were gold and its eyes like crystal, which perched on the apple tree, plucked a golden apple and flew away.

Tzar Wyslaff was greatly angered, and calling to him his two eldest sons, said: “My dear children, I have for many days sought to decide which one of you should inherit my Tzardom and reign after me. Now, therefore, to the one of you who will catch the Glowing Bird, which is the thief of my golden apples, and will bring it to me alive, I will during my life give the half of the Tzardom, and he shall rule after me when I am dead.”

The two sons, hearing, rejoiced, and shouted with one voice: "Gracious Sir! We shall not fail to bring you the Glowing Bird alive!"

Tzarevich Dimitry and Tzarevich Wassily cast lots to see who should have the first trial, and the lot fell to the eldest, Tzarevich Dimitry, who at evening went into the garden to watch. He sat down under the apple-tree and watched till mid night, but when midnight was passed he fell asleep.

In the morning the Tzar summoned him and said: “Well, my son, didst thou see the Glowing Bird who steals my golden apples?" Being ashamed to confess that he had fallen asleep, however, Tzarevich Dimitry answered: "No, gracious Sir ; last night the bird did not visit thy garden.”

The Tzar, however, went himself and counted the apples, and saw that one more had been stolen.

On the next evening Tzarevich Wassily went into the garden to watch, and he too fell asleep at midnight, and next morning when his father summoned him, he, like his brother, being ashamed to tell the truth, answered: "Gracious Sir, I watched throughout the night, but the Glowing Bird that steals the golden apples did not enter thy garden.”

And again, Tzar Wyslaff went himself and counted and saw that another golden apple was missing.

On the third evening Tzarevich Ivan asked permission to watch in the garden, but his father would not permit it. “Thou art but a lad," he said, “and mightest be frightened in the long, dark night.”

But Ivan continued to beseech him till at length the Tzar consented.

So Tzarevich Ivan took his place in the garden, and sat down to watch under the apple-tree that bore the golden apples. He watched an hour, he watched two hours, he watched three hours. When midnight drew near sleep almost overcame him, but he drew his dagger and pricked his thigh with its point till the pain aroused him. And suddenly, an hour after midnight, the garden became bright as if with the light of many fires, and the Glowing Bird came flying on its golden wings to alight on the lowest bough of the apple-tree.

Tzarevich Ivan crept nearer, and as it was about to pluck a golden apple in its beak he sprang toward it and seized its tail. The bird, however, beating with its golden wings, tore itself loose and flew away, leaving in his hand a single long feather. He wrapped this in a handkerchief, lay down on the ground and went to sleep.

In the morning Tzar Wyslaff summoned him to his presence, and said: “Well, my dear son, thou didst not, I suppose, see the Glowing Bird?"

Then Tzarevich Ivan unrolled the handkerchief, and the feather shone so that the whole place was bright with it. The Tzar could not sufficiently admire it, for when it was brought into a darkened room it gleamed as if a hundred candles had been lighted. He put it into his royal treasury as a thing which must be safely kept for ever, and set many watchmen about the garden hoping to snare the Glowing Bird, but it came no more for the golden apples.

Then Tzar Wyslaff, greatly desiring it, sent for his two eldest sons, and said: "Ye, my sons, failed even to see the thief of my apples, yet thy brother Ivan, has at least brought me one of its feathers. Take horse now, with my blessing, and ride in search of it, and to the one of you who brings it to me alive will I give the half of my Tzardom.”

And the Tzareviches Dimitry and Wassily, envious of their younger brother Ivan, rejoiced that their father did not bid him also go, and mounting their swift horses, rode away gladly, both of them, in search of the Glowing Bird.

They rode for three days whether by a near or a far road, or on highland or lowland, the tale is soon told, but the journey is not done quickly till they came to a green plain from whose centre three roads started, and there a great stone was set with these words carved upon it:

"Who rides straight forward shall know both hunger and cold.

Who rides to the right shall live, though his steed be dead.

Who rides to the left shall die, though his steed shall live.”

They were uncertain what to do, since none of the three roads promised well, and turning aside into a pleasant wood, pitched their silken tents and gave themselves over to rest and idle enjoyment.

Now when days had passed and they did not return, Tzarevich Ivan besought his father to give him also his blessing, with leave to ride forth to search for the Glowing Bird, but Tzar Wyslaff denied him, saying: "My dear son, the wolves will devour thee. Thou art still young and unused to far and difficult journeying. Enough that thy brothers have gone from me. I am already old in age, and walk under the eye of God; if He take away my life, and thou too art gone, who will remain to keep order in my Tzardom? Rebellion may arise and there will be no one to quell it, or an enemy may cross our borders and there will be no one to command our troops. Seek not therefore to leave me!"

In spite of all, however, Tzarevich Ivan would not leave off his beseeching till at length his father consented, and he took Tzar Wyslaffs's blessing, chose a swift horse for his use and rode away he knew not whither.

Three days he rode, till he came to the green plain whence the three ways started, and read the words carved on the great stone that stood there.

"I may not take the left road, lest I die," he thought, “nor the middle road, lest I know hunger and cold. Rather will I take the right-hand road, whereon, though my poor horse perish, I at least shall keep my life.”

So he reined to the right.